As the locus of missionary-sending countries is transitioning to the Majority World, there is a pressing need to find avenues to fund those called to work in ministry in ways that will raise needed resources while simultaneously engaging local support and ownership. Wycliffe’s “Matching Funds Experiment” has produced some intriguing results for the global Church to consider. The experiment had two components. The first encompassed the sending of three consultants from various countries to do partnership development training for colleagues in three other countries. Our hope was to equip people to more effectively raise funds in their own contexts. How this played out in each country was slightly different. However, the results at the Translators Association of the Philippines (TAP) were considerable. For the purpose of this blog post, what follows are three aspects of the experiment that proved to be especially insightful. However, the full findings were published in EMQ and can be viewed by clicking on the following link (Click here).
Perspective Is Critical
Although partnership development training was provided to TAP members in the past, nothing ever changed. Some members had served for twenty years and yet had never seen their support increase. Instead of focusing on newsletters or teaching people how to share two or five-minute modules with their churches, a different approach was used. The consultant, Myles Wilson, focused first on heart issues. He spent a great deal of time sharing how Jesus funded his ministry through gifts from friends like Joanna and Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3). This was the first time someone addressed the biggest obstacle TAP members faced in raising support: they lived in a shame-based culture and felt like beggars if they asked for financial support from friends and family. In their context, to become a beggar was one of the greatest forms of shame any person or family could endure.
For the first time many TAP members experienced a perspective transformation that served as a catalyst for different results and personal growth. Instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed to ask people to join their ministry teams, they now saw partnerships development as modeling the behavior of their Lord and Savior, who was neither a beggar nor a failure. Although additional TAP members were involved in this experiment, the chart below includes those who were involved in raising support for their ministries the year before the experiment and the year following the start of the experiment. This data (in pesos) has been included to provide quantitative analysis to supplement and support anecdotal information.
As the one who coordinated the experiment, I visited Manila to speak to each of the participants after the quantitative data was collected. I wanted to understand why some people experienced progress and others did not. It was through these discussions that the issue of perspective became so apparent. Single I said, “I always believed that Ilocanos do not ask for money. Myles shattered my negative perspective!” Couple D said, “Our whole perspective changed! For the first time we realized we really could ask our friends.” Others are not included in the chart on the following page because they had just started raising funds to go abroad, and there was no comparative data available. However, time and time again, when an increase in support was present, there were also comments on how negative perspectives had been changed. Even when people had little time to raise funds due to heavy work schedules, if their perspective became more positive, their income increased. This was the case with Single L, whose language project was especially intense during this period. She said, “How can you face people if you think you are a beggar? For me, partnership development is a service. It is lifting up God and others. The mindset of Filipinos needs to change.”
As I talked with those whose support had decreased, a negative perspective about partnership development seemed to be at the core. Couple G said, “To ask people to support us in our culture is not permitted. We are thinking of planting some rubber trees for income.” The amazing thing was that the ministry of this couple was utterly exceptional. A substantial revival was taking place in their language project. Many were coming to Christ; supernatural healings were taking place. They were back in Manila frequently surrounded by all kinds of people who were not of the same ethnic heritage. Many believers would have felt blessed and privileged to partner with what God was doing in and through them.
It is unrealistic to approach people from a shame-based culture and ask them to raise their own support without spending extensive time in the beginning and throughout the process addressing the heart of their concerns. In many countries and within many families, raising personal support is seen as “begging.” One of the things that made this effort more effective than partnership development training in the past was examining such cultural beliefs in light of scriptural realities. The word of God is powerful (Heb. 4:12). Only as people gain a new perspective from God’s word can they muster the courage to develop the new skills required to find greater resources for their ministries and for the kingdom.
A Gentle Accountability Structure
When I was asked to oversee this experiment, I had one serious concern: growing in partnership development skills seemed to mirror some of the research in Emotional Intelligence Training. What Wycliffe was trying to facilitate was changed behavior, and yet typical partnership development training was modeled after courses focused solely on cognitive growth. I was concerned that if each organization receiving training did not implement some type of contextually appropriate accountability process, any gains in inspiration and motivation would be short-lived. As such, I asked each of the three organizations to consider contextualizing an accountability process which would serve them best. All said they would consider it; however, at the time TAP was the only entity to develop one and put it into practice. There was no significant increase in local funds raised in the other two entities. However, when the support of all the TAP members was calculated, including new members who initially were quite uncomfortable with raising support, donations for the organization increased more than fifty percent.
One especially intriguing aspect is the similarity of TAP to one of the other organizations included in the experiment. Both indigenous organizations had members who, for many years, had served with low support. Both contexts had a strong Catholic presence and a growing evangelical Church that was starting to send more missionaries. Both organizations had many members who served within their own national borders, yet were not seen by the evangelical churches as being “true” missionaries. Both contexts wrestled with a shame-based culture. And, most striking, both of the PD consultants were trained and mentored by the same person, so their styles and methods were incredibly similar. I did not realize this last point until much later in the process; however, I always thought it was amazing that these two men seemed to approach ministry in such a similar way despite being from different countries. So what caused the difference? Why did TAP see such great results, but this other indigenous organization with very similar demographics did not? Both groups truly enjoyed, appreciated, and felt motivated after the end of the initial training session. However, TAP implemented a contextually appropriate and gentle accountability structure and the other entity did not. For this reason, I am even more deeply convinced that this is a critical piece for the training to be effective.
Matching Funds as a Motivator
I was not sure how matching funds from abroad would factor into this process. Through the interviews, however, it became apparent that they served as a serious motivator which gave people courage to “try again” even though, in the past, partnership development efforts were never productive. It also seemed to convey to TAP members that their colleagues throughout the worldwide family of organizations finally understood that it might not be as easy for them to raise funds locally as it would be for those coming from wealthier countries. One person described it as an “emotional buffer” in that she was not approaching people empty-handed or alone. Matching funds represented to her that somebody, or a group of people, was behind her and valued the work she was doing. As such, it made it easier to ask others to give as well.
As a whole, the matching funds have been a blessing. One TAP member said, “Before I just lived one day at a time because I could not see how things would ever improve. I tried to be faithful with what God was giving me. Now, because of the matching funds experiment, I have dreams for the future—for what God can do in and through me for my people!” I was reminded again of how much TAP members continue to give to others in spite of their own personal needs. Many have one or two advanced degrees and several have left good jobs (which at this time in the Philippines are not always easy to find) to work in ministry. It was inspiring to see what they were doing with the resources entrusted to them.
A beautiful lesson from Wycliffe’s Matching Fund Experiment is that it teaches that there are ways to blend together the gifts of the wealthy with the gifts of the middle class and the gifts of the poor. Some of the TAP members explained that when they asked extremely poor people to contribute to their ministries, the poor were inspired that their gift would be “matched” and would actually do more in the kingdom. It caused them to feel as though what they had to give was not insignificant, but rather, it had great worth. What an incredibly beautiful thing: blessing for the poor who give, blessing for average wage earners, and blessing for the wealthy! Who then feels ownership for the ministry? Whose hearts and whose prayers are with these missionaries? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). Only as all participate will all be blessed and will all own the work of the kingdom. Only then will there be true sustainability. Only then will Christ’s purposes for the world be wholly realized.